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EDITORIAL: Cuts made us less prepared

The Dispatch Editorial Board
An aide holds a copy of the President's Budget for 2021, as Office of Management and Budget Acting Director Russell Vought testifies during a hearing of the House Budget Committee about President Trump's budget for Fiscal Year 2021, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The coronavirus will devastate budgets. That fact is beyond doubt.

But let's not forget austerity helped make this mess

State revenues are projected to plunge by up to $6 billion after more than a million Pennsylvanians have been laid off or furloughed from jobs. Sales tax, too, is likely to drop.

And lawmakers in Harrisburg are staring down an almost impossible set of choices as the June 30 budget deadline nears.

Any cuts at the state level will inevitably trickle down to local governments and economies.

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For example, cuts to the state's public university system would pull revenue directly from the economies of communities that are home to the schools and their employees. 

The result would be a widespread slash-and-burn approach to local budgets, as elected officials take pains to avoid hiking taxes on an already beleaguered public. 

We've seen this all before, most recently following the 2008 Wall Street crash.

Public sector jobs were lost. Programs were eliminated.

Government at all levels was weakened and less able to provide basic services.

There's a pervasive thread throughout conservative politics, one that argues government is incapable of solving even the most basic problems. The market, they claim, is always the solution. So government is cut further.  

The result: Government programs are hollowed out and doomed to failure.

It's a self-fulfilling prophecy that serves a certain political philosophy. But the result is to the detriment of almost everyone else.

Public school children attend less capable institutions. Drivers contend with pot-hole riddled highways. Public workers are without jobs. 

And, as seen at all levels right now, the American health system — from research to clinical treatment — is ill-prepared for a new disease.

The ghosts of the Great Recession are very much haunting the country throughout the coronavirus outbreak. Pandemic response programs at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been cut or underfunded. States and counties rolled back social welfare programs, endangering already at-risk poor, minority communities.

Americans should take a lesson from 2008, when the knee-jerk response was to burn government down. Sadly, they probably won't.

Congressional leaders are already griping about debt caused by the recent stimulus bills passed in response to the layoffs and furloughs.

More cuts, it seems, are coming.

And government will be less able to respond to the next problem as a result.